Madison School District’s Financial Situation: Memo to the School Board & Administration

Thank you for engaging the community in such a meaningful way with the forums this week. I believe the forums were successful in that the participating citizens had the opportunity to openly ask questions, seek information and give suggestions for consideration. The information provided by Dan and Erik was clear and helpful. We believe, that with the actions of the board and administration in recent weeks, there is a new openness, a willingness for exercising greater due-diligence, and an openness to examine more fully the opportunities and challenges with fresh insights and strategies.
There is a challenging road ahead with very heavy lifting to be done to continue to more fully communicate with and engage the public in the decision-making process regarding the future of the district in the educational, business and financial elements. These processes are absolutely critical to charting the course toward more effectivenss in student achievement results and business management. At this point in time, the plans and communications provide greater hope for more effective decision-making. However, time is critical for these processes to evolve with hard evidence to show the public that serious steps are actually underway and are producing information and results in order to provide for clearer future options and enlightened decision-making.
Given the critical values briefly outlined above, it is premature at this time to make recommendations or decisions on a course or courses of action to seek more spending authority as a solution regarding the financial needs of the district. The groundwork for decision-making and the development of improved levels of public confidence in the Board and administration have to continue to be proactively matured for both short- and long-term successes in the district. We urge you to proceed carefully, firmly and in a strategic and progressive manner.
I am available and willing at any time to engage in discussion regarding these statements and recommendations.
Don Severson
Active Citizens for Education

Referendum or no referendum? First school forum draws dozens

Tamira Madsen:

On Aug. 18 Nerad will present his recommendations to the board on whether a referendum is the way to trim an $8.2 million hole in the budget, and the board likely will vote Aug. 25 to formulate referendum questions for the Nov. 4 election. In addition, the gap is expected to be $6 million in the 2010-11 school year and $5.1 million in 2011-12.
Since a state-imposed revenue formula was implemented in 1993 to control property taxes, the district has cut $60 million in programs, staffing and services. The district did not have to make budget reductions during the 2008-09 school year after it benefited from a one-time, $5.7 million tax incremental financing district windfall from the city. The district will spend approximately $367.6 million during the 2008-09 school year, an increase of about 0.75 percent over the 2007-08 school year budget.

Andy Hall:

In addition to exploring reductions, Madison officials are researching how much it would cost to begin offering kindergarten to 4-year-olds in the district — a program offered by two-thirds of the school districts in Wisconsin.
Resident William Rowe, a retired educator, urged school officials to generate excitement by offering 4K, which research has shown can help improve academic achievement.
“I believe this is the time to go for it,” said Rowe, who proposed that a 4K referendum be offered separately from a referendum that would help avert budget cuts.
Don Severson, president of Active Citizens for Education, a district watchdog group, praised district officials for making the process so open to the public. However, he urged officials to provide more information about the costs and benefits of specific programs to help the public understand what’s working and what’s not. He predicted a referendum is “going to be very difficult to pass” but said he still hasn’t decided whether one is needed.

Much more on the budget here.

The End of White Flight

Conor Dougherty:

Decades of white flight transformed America’s cities. That era is drawing to a close.
In Washington, a historically black church is trying to attract white members to survive. Atlanta’s next mayoral race is expected to feature the first competitive white candidate since the 1980s. San Francisco has lost so many African-Americans that Mayor Gavin Newsom created an “African-American Out-Migration Task Force and Advisory Committee” to help retain black residents.
“The city is experiencing growth, yet we’re losing African-American families disproportionately,” Mr. Newsom says. When that happens, “we lose part of our soul.”
For much of the 20th century, the proportion of whites shrank in most U.S. cities. In recent years the decline has slowed considerably — and in some significant cases has reversed. Between 2000 and 2006, eight of the 50 largest cities, including Boston, Seattle and San Francisco, saw the proportion of whites increase, according to Census figures. The previous decade, only three cities saw increases.
The changing racial mix is stirring up quarrels over class and culture. Beloved institutions in traditionally black communities — minority-owned restaurants, book stores — are losing the customers who supported them for decades. As neighborhoods grow more multicultural, conflicts over home prices, taxes and education are opening a new chapter in American race relations.

Related: a look at local K-12 enrollment changes.

Forget About the Achievement Gap: High Achieving Students in the Era of No Child Left Behind

Jay Matthews:

“The narrowing of test score gaps, although an important accomplishment,” Loveless writes, should not “overshadow the languid performance trends of high-achieving students.” He adds: “Their test scores are not being harmed during the NCLB era, but they are not flourishing either. Gaps are narrowing because the gains of low-achieving students are outstripping those of high achievers by a factor of two or three to one. The nation has a strong interest in developing the talents of its best students to their fullest to foster the kind of growth at the top end of the achievement distribution that has been occurring at the bottom end.”

Ann Duffett, Steve Farkas & Tom Loveless on the “Robin Hood Effect”:

This publication reports the results of the first two (of five) studies of a multifaceted research investigation of the state of high-achieving students in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) era.

Part I: An Analysis of NAEP Data, authored by Brookings Institution scholar Tom Loveless, examines achievement trends for high-achieving students (defined, like low-achieving students, by their performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP) since the early 1990s and, in more detail, since 2000.

Part II: Results from a National Teacher Survey, authored by Steve Farkas and Ann Duffett of Farkas Duffett Research Group, reports on teachers’ own views of how schools are serving high-achieving pupils in the NCLB era.

The idea that a university education is for everyone is a destructive myth. An instructor at a “college of last resort” explains why.

Professor X:

I work part-time in the evenings as an adjunct instructor of English. I teach two courses, Introduction to College Writing (English 101) and Introduction to College Literature (English 102), at a small private college and at a community college. The campuses are physically lovely—quiet havens of ornate stonework and columns, Gothic Revival archways, sweeping quads, and tidy Victorian scalloping. Students chat or examine their cell phones or study languidly under spreading trees. Balls click faintly against »
bats on the athletic fields. Inside the arts and humanities building, my students and I discuss Shakespeare, Dubliners, poetic rhythms, and Edward Said. We might seem, at first glance, to be enacting some sort of college idyll. We could be at Harvard. But this is not Harvard, and our classes are no idyll. Beneath the surface of this serene and scholarly mise-en-scène roil waters of frustration and bad feeling, for these colleges teem with students who are in over their heads.
I work at colleges of last resort. For many of my students, college was not a goal they spent years preparing for, but a place they landed in. Those I teach don’t come up in the debates about adolescent overachievers and cutthroat college admissions. Mine are the students whose applications show indifferent grades and have blank spaces where the extracurricular activities would go. They chose their college based not on the U.S. News & World Report rankings but on MapQuest; in their ideal academic geometry, college is located at a convenient spot between work and home. I can relate, for it was exactly this line of thinking that dictated where I sent my teaching résumé.

A Robin Hood Effect: Does the focus on students who are furthest behind come at the expense of top students?

Ann Duffett, Steve Farkas, Tom Loveless: High Achieving Students in the era of NCLB.

This publication reports the results of the first two (of five) studies of a multifaceted research investigation of the state of high-achieving students in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) era.
Part I: An Analysis of NAEP Data, authored by Brookings Institution scholar Tom Loveless, examines achievement trends for high-achieving students (defined, like low-achieving students, by their performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP) since the early 1990s and, in more detail, since 2000.
Part II: Results from a National Teacher Survey, authored by Steve Farkas and Ann Duffett of Farkas Duffett Research Group, reports on teachers’ own views of how schools are serving high-achieving pupils in the NCLB era.

Locally, these issues have manifested themselves with a controversial move toward one size fits all curriculum: English 10 and mandatory academic grouping, High School Redesign and a letter from the West High School Math teachers to Isthmus. Dane County AP Class offering comparison.
Report Sees Cost in Some Academic Gains by Sam Dillon:

And about three-quarters of the teachers surveyed said they agreed with this statement: “Too often, the brightest students are bored and under-challenged in school — we’re not giving them a sufficient chance to thrive”.

Download the complete 7.3MB report here.
Thanks to a reader for emailing the report.

Dane County, WI Schools Consider MAP Assessement Tests After Frustration with State WKCE Exams
Waunakee Urges that the State Dump the WKCE

Andy Hall takes a look at a useful topic:

From Wisconsin Heights on the west to Marshall on the east, 10 Dane County school districts and the private Eagle School in Fitchburg are among more than 170 Wisconsin public and private school systems purchasing tests from Northwest Evaluation Association, a nonprofit group based in the state of Oregon.
The aim of those tests, known as Measures of Academic Progress, and others purchased from other vendors, is to give educators, students and parents more information about students ‘ strengths and weaknesses. Officials at these districts say the cost, about $12 per student per year for MAP tests, is a good investment.
The tests ‘ popularity also reflects widespread frustration over the state ‘s $10 million testing program, the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination.
Critics say that WKCE, which is used to hold schools accountable under the federal No Child Left Behind law, fails to provide adequate data to help improve the teaching methods and curriculum used in the classrooms.
They complain that because the tests are administered just once a year, and it takes nearly six months to receive the results, the information arrives in May — too late to be of use to teachers during the school year.
The testing controversy is “a healthy debate, ” said Tony Evers, deputy state superintendent of public instruction, whose agency contends that there ‘s room for both WKCE and MAP.
“It ‘s a test that we feel is much more relevant to assisting students and helping them with their skills development, ” said Mike Hensgen, director of curriculum and instruction for the Waunakee School District, who acknowledges he ‘s a radical in his dislike of WKCE.
“To me, the WKCE is not rigorous enough. When a kid sees he ‘s proficient, ‘ he thinks he ‘s fine. ”
Hensgen contends that the WKCE, which is based on the state ‘s academic content for each grade level, does a poor job of depicting what elite students, and students performing at the bottom level, really know.
The Waunakee School Board, in a letter being distributed this month, is urging state legislators and education officials to find ways to dump WKCE in favor of MAP and tests from ACT and other vendors.

The Madison School District and the Wisconsin Center for Education Research are using the WKCE as a benchmark for “Value Added Assessment”.

“Magical Thinking on Education and Vouchers”

Diane Roberts:

This week’s summit — as sponsors call it — of Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education might seem like a mere “school choice” pep rally with a bonus excursion to the Magic Kingdom, but it’s happening at a time when the Legislature has decimated school funding. Moreover, this is an election year.
Headliners at the conference at the Disney World Contemporary Resort include New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, a slew of usual suspects from the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute, plus Barbara Bush and state Sen. Dan Webster, whose valedictory piece of legislation was a resolution instructing Floridians to pray away hurricanes on June 1.
And, of course, Jeb Bush himself.
Three of the nine amendments Floridians will vote on this November will determine the course of public education in this state. Amendment 5 (Clusty / Google) gets rid of local property taxes designated for schools, requiring the Legislature to raise sales taxes or perform some other voodoo economics to make up the funding gap. Amendments 7 (Clusty / Google) and 9 (Clusty / Google) would demolish Florida’s separation of church and state and repeal the part of the Constitution that calls for a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education.” The state would simply be obligated to provide education “fulfilled at a minimum and not exclusively” by public schools.
Out of office ain’t out of power — Amendments 7 and 9 come courtesy of Jeb Bush and his band of true believers.

Diane Roberts is professor of English at Florida State University.

Experimental audio/visual therapies help some schools teach students to focus

Greg Toppo:

A small but growing number of schools are using experimental therapies to retrain students’ hearing and vision, in essence reteaching them to hear and see. It’s a bid to reverse problems with the ability to focus and learn brought on by years of excessive TV, poor nutrition and, for some, in vitro drug exposure.
At Gordon Parks Elementary School, a charter school in Kansas City, Mo., 60% of kindergartners in 2004 failed a visual-skills test. Most had 20/20 vision, but they struggled to focus on moving objects, track lines of print and refocus from near to far.
That fall, Gordon Parks began regular lessons in visual skills. Therapist Cheryl Steffenella says dangerous neighborhoods and the ubiquity of TV and video games means many of her students “aren’t doing kid things” — climbing trees, jumping and running — that help develop visual and motor skills. Even playing video games that require a lot of eye movement exercises children’s vision minimally, she says.

Education for Peace

H.D.S Greenway:

When it was becoming clear that the tide of World War II was turning, after Battle of Midway, after Battle of Stalingrad, when Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps was on the run, an unknown, first-term congressman introduced a resolution that would help shape the post-war world.
The freshman congressman was J. William Fulbright, Democrat of Arkansas. His resolution was only one sentence, as “plain as an old hat,” said Life magazine at the time: “Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring) that the Congress hereby expresses itself as favoring the creation of appropriate international machinery with power adequate to establish and to maintain a just and lasting peace among the nations of the world, and as favoring participation by the United States therein.”
In June of 1943, an isolationist Republican from Ohio, John Vorys, rose to voice his approval, and the resolution was passed. Vorys’s conversion marked the beginning of the United States’s bipartisan, multilateralist foreign policy that would lead to the forming of the United Nations, reversing America’s decision after World War I not to join the League of Nations.
Fulbright, a former Rhodes Scholar and University of Arkansas president, was elected to the Senate the following year. He would go on to become the only senator to vote against the appropriation for Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Un-American Activities Committee, and, afterward, as the longest serving chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which so ably illuminated the absurdities of the Vietnam War.
Flowing from his early internationalist resolution came the creation of the Fulbright Scholar Program, signed into law by Harry Truman in 1946. It promoted educational exchanges between foreign students and Americans to facilitate “mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries of the world.” It is a program I have been involved with over the years.

Fulbright Scholars website.

Private vs. Public Schools

The lawn is meticulously manicured, as if the groundskeeper’s tools include a cuticle scissors. Classic brick buildings, a bell tolling the hour and concrete lion statues almost convince me that I’m at an East Coast college. But this is Lakeside School in Northeast Seattle.
This is where super-achievers went to school – Bill Gates, Paul Allen and Craig McCaw to name a few. Many of Seattle’s affluent families send their kids here for a challenging private education. With an acceptance rate of 24 percent, Lakeside is the most elite private high school in the Northwest. So what am I doing here?
Just wandering, and wondering if my children would have a better start in life if they went to private schools.
“As someone who has experienced both public schooling and private schooling, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind: sending your child to a private school is one of the best decisions you can make for him or her,” says Peter Rasmussen, a recent Lakeside alumnus. “In retrospect, if my parents made me pay my tuition all by myself, I would have. That’s how valuable a Lakeside education is.”
Words from an e-mail conversation with Rasmussen scroll across my brain as I glance around Lakeside: “Absolutely no doubt … one of the best decisions … that’s how valuable.”
A lot of families are like the Rasmussens. In Seattle, almost one out of four students attends private schools, according to an estimate from Seattle Public Schools. The national average is one in 10.
I’ve talked with the president of Seattle Preparatory School, the mom of a Holy Names Academy student, researchers at the Center on Education Policy and a local education author. They’ve given me a better understanding of why private education is extraordinary and also what public schools do well. Which is better for my kids? For your kids?
Related Links:

Continue reading here.

‘Hands-on’ science teaching gains momentum in Wisconsin

Karyn Saemann:

In an approach based in Green Bay that has spread down the Lake Michigan shoreline, about 40 Wisconsin districts (though not Madison) belong to a consortium called the Einstein Project, a nonprofit group that buys the kits from publishers, leases them for a nominal fee to schools and arranges teacher training on their use.
Hailed as a national model by the National Science Teachers Association, the Einstein Project began on a shoestring and now has 10 employees, two kit warehouses and a $1 million annual budget supported by the rental fees, year-round fundraising and private and corporate backing.
But critics of the hands-on movement charge that without textbooks and the structured reading, teacher-driven learning and broad memorization of facts that traditionally define classroom science, kids are being short-changed on core knowledge.
A major fight over science curriculum in California got national attention in 2004, as the state weighed a proposal to allow no more than 25 percent of science classroom time for hands-on activities. But in an abrupt reversal after intense debate, the adopted standard reads that at least 25 percent of science classroom time has to be hands-on.
Stanley Metzenberg, an assistant biology professor from California State University-Northridge, said in congressional testimony that reading is critical for scientists and that children are best served through traditional textbooks and teacher-directed instruction.

Obesity Threatens a Generation

Susan Levine & Rob Stein:

In ways only beginning to be understood, being overweight at a young age appears to be far more destructive to well-being than adding excess pounds later in life. Virtually every major organ is at risk. The greater damage is probably irreversible.
Doctors are seeing confirmation of this daily: boys and girls in elementary school suffering from high blood pressure, high cholesterol and painful joint conditions; a soaring incidence of type 2 diabetes, once a rarity in pediatricians’ offices; even a spike in child gallstones, also once a singularly adult affliction. Minority youth are most severely affected, because so many are pushing the scales into the most dangerous territory.
With one in three children in this country overweight or worse, the future health and productivity of an entire generation — and a nation — could be in jeopardy.

The art of improving education

Jack Khoury:

“It is forbidden to dance”; “it is forbidden to paint”; “it is forbidden to sing”; “it is forbidden to play an instrument.” These statements were printed on signs displayed in mainly Arab neighborhoods in Haifa. The signs were hung as armor in the battle mounted by the Non-profit Organization for the Advancement of Arab Public Education in Haifa, to open a school for the arts to serve the city’s Arab sector. The organization also collected parents’ signatures in a petition that urges the Haifa Municipality and Education Ministry to reverse their positions and support the school, which would be the first of its type in the Israeli-Arab sector.
In August last year, the organization filed an appeal to the High Court against the ministry and the municipality, demanding that the school be opened. Months later, while still waiting for the court’s ruling, the organization decided to launch the campaign. According to the organization, the school could staunch the flow of students to Haifa’s private schools and even boost the public education system in the city’s Arab sector. Organization members stress that a swift ruling by the court is vital, because the placement committee for the city’s special schools will soon complete its activities for the coming school year and the future of the school would rest in the hands of that committee.

The science teacher: Memorial’s Ben Senson goes the extra mile to challenge and engage his students

Maggie Rossiter Peterman:

With a meter stick in his hand, Ben Senson instructs his ninth-grade science students on how to calculate formulas for force using levers and fulcrums.
He sketches out an equation on the whiteboard, turns around, adjusts the meter stick on a spring scale and calls for a reading.
“Where do I put the weight for a third-class lever?” the Memorial High school [Map] teacher quizzes.
No one answers.
“Come on, man,” Senson cajoles. “We have to pre-read our labs so we know what we’re going to do. If you’re running short of time, make sure you get the spring scale reading. Do the math later.”
Grabbing their lab sheets and purple pens, the freshmen split into groups to complete the assignment for an Integrated Science Program.
“The equations are hard to remember,” Shannon Behling, 14, tells a classroom visitor. “It gets confusing.” But she sees the value of the assignment: “We may not use this stuff, but it gets your brain to think in a different way.”

Brown vs. Board of Education


A Law case in which, on May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that racial segregation in public schools violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which declares that no state may deny equal protection of the laws to any person within its jurisdiction. The decision declared that separate educational facilities were inherently unequal. Based on a series of Supreme Court cases argued between 1938 and 1950, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka completed the reversal of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which had permitted “separate but equal” public facilities. Strictly speaking, the 1954 decision was limited to the public schools, but it implied that segregation was not permissible in other public facilities.

May 17, 1954.

Some of California’s most gifted students are being ignored, advocates say

Carla Rivera:

If you reviewed Dalton Sargent’s report cards, you’d know only half his story. The 15-year-old Altadena junior has lousy grades in many subjects. He has blown off assignments and been dissatisfied with many of his teachers. It would be accurate to call him a problematic student. But he is also gifted.
Dalton is among the sizable number of highly intelligent or talented children in the nation’s classrooms who find little in the standard curriculum to rouse their interest and who often fall by the wayside.
With schools under intense pressure from state and federal mandates such as No Child Left Behind to raise test scores of low-achieving pupils, the educational needs of gifted students — who usually perform well on standardized tests — too often are ignored, advocates say.
Nationally, about 3 million kindergarten through 12th-grade students are identified as gifted, but 80% of them do not receive specialized instruction, experts say. Studies have found that 5% to 20% of students who drop out are gifted.
There is no federal law mandating special programs for gifted children, though many educators argue that these students — whose curiosity and creativity often coexist with emotional and social problems — deserve the same status as those with special needs. Services for gifted students vary from state to state. In California, about 512,000 students are enrolled in the Gifted and Talented Education program, which aims to provide specialized and accelerated instruction.

Linda Scholl @ Wisconsin Center for Education Research: SCALE Case Study: Evolution of K-8 Science Instructional Guidance in Madison Metropolitan School District [PDF report]

In addition, by instituting a standards-based report card system K-8, the department has increased accountability for teaching to the standards.
The Department is struggling, however, to sharpen its efforts to reduce the achievement gap. While progress has been made in third grade reading, significant gaps are still evident in other subject areas, including math and science. Educational equity issues within the school district are the source of much public controversy, with a relatively small but vocal parent community that is advocating for directing greater resources toward meeting the needs of high achieving students. This has slowed efforts to implement strong academic equity initiatives, particularly at the middle and early high school levels. Nonetheless, T&L content areas specialists continue working with teachers to provide a rigorous curriculum and to differentiate instruction for all students. In that context, the new high school biology initiative represents a significant effort to raise the achievement of students of color and economic disadvantage.

WCER’s tight relationship with the Madison School District has been the source of some controversy.

Scholl’s error, in my view, is viewing the controversy as an issue of “advocating for directing greater resources toward meeting the needs of high achieving students”. The real issue is raising standards for all, rathing than reducing the curriculum quality (see West High School Math teachers letter to the Isthmus:

Moreover, parents of future West High students should take notice: As you read this, our department is under pressure from the administration and the math coordinator’s office to phase out our “accelerated” course offerings beginning next year. Rather than addressing the problems of equity and closing the gap by identifying minority math talent earlier, and fostering minority participation in the accelerated programs, our administration wants to take the cheaper way out by forcing all kids into a one-size-fits-all curriculum.
It seems the administration and our school board have re-defined “success” as merely producing “fewer failures.” Astonishingly, excellence in student achievement is visited by some school district administrators with apathy at best, and with contempt at worst. But, while raising low achievers is a laudable goal, it is woefully short-sighted and, ironically, racist in the most insidious way. Somehow, limiting opportunities for excellence has become the definition of providing equity! Could there be a greater insult to the minority community?

A friend mentioned a few years ago that the problems are in elementary and middle school. Rather than addressing those, the administration is trying to make high school changes.
Thanks to a reader for sending along these links.

18 Area Students Receive Meriter Scholarships

The Capital Times:

The winners, eight of whom have a parent who works at Meriter, will be recognized at an awards luncheon on Friday.
They are Kylie Severson, Columbus; Kristen VanderMolen, DeForest; Amadou Fofana, Junfeng Hou and Dolma Namgyal, Madison East; Marissa Wacker and Sabena Khan, Madison Edgewood; Carolyn Sleeth, Madison Memorial; Jamie Klump and Jennifer Werner, Middleton; Mathew Becker, Aubrey Lauersdorf, Brittany Sellers and Chie Yang, Monona Grove; Leah Smith, Portage; Emily Welch, Verona; Laura Purdy, Waunakee; and Megan Wood, Madison West.

Columbus, Stoughton Granted Startup Funds for 4-Year-Old Kindergarten; Background on Madison’s inaction

Quinn Craugh:

School districts in Stoughton, Columbus, Deerfield, Sauk Prairie and Janesville were among 32 statewide named Monday to receive Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction grants to start kindergarten programs for 4-year-olds.
But it may not be enough for at least one area district.
Getting 4-year-olds enrolled in kindergarten is a key step to raising student achievement levels and graduation rates, particularly among children from low-income families, national research has shown, DPI spokesman Patrick Gasper said.
School districts’ efforts to launch 4K programs have been hampered because it takes three years to get full funding for the program under the state’s school-finance system, according to DPI.
That’s what these grants are supposed to address with $3 million announced for 4K programs to start this fall.
Columbus, one of the school districts that qualified for the grant, would get an estimated $62,814 to enroll 87 children this fall.

Related: Marc Eisen on Missed Opportunity for 4K and High School Redesign.

The good news is that the feds refused to fund the school district’s proposal to revamp the high schools. The plan was wrongheaded in many respects, including its seeming intent to eliminate advanced classes that are overwhelmingly white and mix kids of distressingly varied achievement levels in the same classrooms.
This is a recipe for encouraging more middle-class flight to the suburbs. And, more to the point, addressing the achievement gap in high school is way too late. Turning around a hormone-surging teenager after eight years of educational frustration and failure is painfully hard.
We need to save these kids when they’re still kids. We need to pull them up to grade level well before they hit the wasteland of middle school. That’s why kindergarten for 4-year-olds is a community imperative.
As it happens, state school Supt. Elizabeth Burmaster issued a report last week announcing that 283 of Wisconsin’s 426 school districts now offer 4K. Enrollment has doubled since 2001, to almost 28,000 4-year-olds statewide.
Burmaster nailed it when she cited research showing that quality early-childhood programs prepare children “to successfully transition into school by bridging the effects of poverty, allowing children from economically disadvantaged families to gain an equal footing with their peers.”

Madison Teachers Inc.’s John Matthews on 4 Year Old Kindergarten:

For many years, recognizing the value to both children and the community, Madison Teachers Inc. has endorsed 4-year-old kindergarten being universally accessible to all.
This forward-thinking educational opportunity will provide all children with an opportunity to develop the skills they need to be better prepared to proceed with their education, with the benefit of 4- year-old kindergarten. They will be more successful, not only in school, but in life.
Four-year-old kindergarten is just one more way in which Madison schools will be on the cutting edge, offering the best educational opportunities to children. In a city that values education as we do, there is no question that people understand the value it provides.
Because of the increasing financial pressures placed upon the Madison School District, resulting from state- imposed revenue limits, many educational services and programs have been cut to the bone.
During the 2001-02 budget cycle, the axe unfortunately fell on the district’s 4-year-old kindergarten program. The School Board was forced to eliminate the remaining $380,000 funding then available to those families opting to enroll their children in the program.

Jason Shephard on John Matthews:

This includes its opposition to collaborative 4-year-old kindergarten, virtual classes and charter schools, all of which might improve the chances of low achievers and help retain a crucial cadre of students from higher-income families. Virtual classes would allow the district to expand its offerings beyond its traditional curriculum, helping everyone from teen parents to those seeking high-level math and science courses. But the union has fought the district’s attempts to offer classes that are not led by MTI teachers.
As for charter schools, MTI has long opposed them and lobbied behind the scenes last year to kill the Studio School, an arts and technology charter that the school board rejected by a 4-3 vote. (Many have also speculated that Winston’s last minute flip-flop was partly to appease the union.)
“There have become these huge blind spots in a system where the superintendent doesn’t raise certain issues because it will upset the union,” Robarts says. “Everyone ends up being subject to the one big political player in the system, and that’s the teachers union.”
MTI’s opposition was a major factor in Rainwater’s decision to kill a 4-year-old kindergarten proposal in 2003, a city official told Isthmus last year (See “How can we help poor students achieve more?” 3/22/07).
Matthews’ major problem with a collaborative proposal is that district money would support daycare workers who are not MTI members. “The basic union concept gets shot,” he says. “And if you shoot it there, where else are you going to shoot it?”
At times, Matthews can appear downright callous. He says he has no problem with the district opening up its own 4K program, which would cost more and require significant physical space that the district doesn’t have. It would also devastate the city’s accredited non-profit daycare providers by siphoning off older kids whose enrollment offsets costs associated with infants and toddlers.
“Not my problem,” Matthews retorts.

It will be interesting to see where incoming Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad takes this issue.

Admission Impossible

Keith Gessen:

At the end of our freshman year at Harvard, my roommates and I, having done so well so far in the lottery of life, did badly in the housing lottery. We were sent to live in the Quad, a group of dorms half a mile northwest of the main campus. This was in the mid-’90s, before global warming, so on cold winter days, while our classmates rolled out of bed and into lecture with a steaming hot coffee and a warm apple fritter, we trudged through snow and wind to sit there for an hour in our wet socks. On the other hand, cut off from civilization, we had a lot of time to think. We thought about modernity, the Renaissance, etc.; we played a lot of Ping-Pong; and we considered our lives, thus far, and what Harvard meant to them. One of my friends formulated an idea. “We’ve done the hardest thing,” he said, meaning getting into Harvard. He came to be fond of this statement, and in lulls in dining hall conversation he’d return to it. “We’re 19 years old and we’ve done the hardest thing there is to do,” he’d say, and then we’d sit there, looking stupidly at one another.
In the years since, as I learned from Joie Jager-Hyman’s FAT ENVELOPE FRENZY: One Year, Five Promising Students, and the Pursuit of the Ivy League Prize (Harper, paper, $14.95), it’s only gotten harder. A former Dartmouth admissions officer, Jager-Hyman follows five high school high-achievers trying to get into Harvard.
And it is scary.
Before reading “Fat Envelope Frenzy,” I was convinced that our nation’s youth spent all their time uploading party photos to the Internet. I still think that. Yet it appears that a division of labor has been effected. Reading about Felix, who at 14 spent the summer assisting doctors at a rural orphanage in his parents’ native China; and Nabil, a top “mathlete” already familiar with the work of his potential future professors; and Lisa, a national champion rhythmic gymnast who tells Jager-Hyman that gymnastics “is like my anti-drug — not that I’d be doing drugs,” I kept thinking of poor John Stuart Mill, the original early applicant, whose father home-schooled him from the age of 3, teaching him Greek and Latin and the theories of Jeremy Bentham, but not how to feel. At the age of 20, Mill suffered a breakdown; already one of the most brilliant polemicists in England, he couldn’t say anymore what the point of it was. As he later wrote, “The whole foundation on which my life was constructed fell down.”

Annual review rates state-funded preschool programs

Karen Uhlenhuth:

Although many states, including Kansas, are subsidizing public preschool for growing numbers of children, Missouri is serving fewer than it did five years ago.
The National Institute for Early Education Research on Wednesday released its yearly review of state-funded preschool. It found that more states are spending more money to enroll more children in higher-quality preschools. That’s important because children who attend good preschools on average do better on social and learning yardsticks.
Nationally, spending bumped to $3,642 per child, reversing four years of falling support. And for the first time, more than 1 million children nationwide were enrolled in state-funded preschool during the 2006-2007 school year.
Locally, the picture differs quite a bit between Kansas and Missouri.
Support for preschool is reflected in Kansas’ At-Risk Four-Year-Old Children Preschool Program. From the 2001-2002 school year, enrollment grew 168 percent to 5,971 in 2006-2007.
In Missouri, enrollment for 3- and 4-year-olds in 2006-2007 was 4,972, a 12-percent increase over the year before, but a 12-percent drop from 2001-2002. One factor has been stagnant funding, said Jo Anne Ralston, director of Early Childhood Education for the state education department.
“Legislators have crafted bills to get more funding for preschool, but there has not been a lot of support,” she said. On the contrary, Ralston said, Missouri’s preschool program competes with veterans and other constituencies for fees from casinos.

8.4MB complete 2007 report.

Teachers Face Large & Growing Professional Pay Gap


Compared with workers in occupations that have similar education and skill requirements, public school teachers face a large and growing pay gap, according to a new analysis from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).
Over the last decade, the report shows, the teacher pay gap increased from 10.8 percent to 15.1 percent. That translates into weekly earnings that are about $154 lower than comparable workers’. (The report compares teachers to accountants, reporters, registered nurses, computer programmers, clergy and personnel officers.)
AFT executive vice president Antonia Cortese notes that this is just the latest study to confirm the same discouraging trend. “Teachers continue to be vastly underpaid compared with similar workers,” she says in a prepared statement. “This makes recruitment and retention of the best and brightest increasingly difficult, even as the nation recognizes the growing need for high-quality teaching.”
For female teachers and for those with more seniority, the gap is especially striking. In 1960, women teachers were better paid than other similarly educated workers-by about 14.7 percent. By 2000, the situation had reversed to the point where female teachers faced a 13.2 percent annual wage deficit. The pay gap for teachers who are early in their careers has grown only slightly in the past 10 years, the EPI says. For senior female teachers (in the 45-54 age group), the deficit grew 18 percent during that same period.

More on Generational Change, Education & Moore’s Law


Let’s consider for a moment what many readers will find to be a politically incorrect position: because of cheap computers and the Internet, the ability to solve problems ad hoc has become more efficient than teaching kids about problems and issues that will never face them. As a result, the United States has let itself become less competitive by putting so much money into a product (a kid) making both its cost and its ability globally uncompetitive. So, instead of putting more effort into making globally competitive products, we put more effort into blaming those who are smarter at using technology that was mostly invented here.
If the idea is to give everyone a nice comfortable pension, if the same money invested each year in a typical kid’s education was instead invested in an IRA, it would give that kid a very comfortable living upon reaching age 65.
Well this is a terrible position to take, don’t you think? It treats our children like capital goods and denies them any ability to excel, dooming them to mediocrity.
My Mom (Mrs. Cringely to you) once said, “I may not have been the best mother, but at least I got all my kids through school.”
“No you didn’t,” I replied (this is a true story, by the way). “We would have made it through school with or without you.” And we would have.
Not wanting to put too much of a Libertarian spin on it, because I am certainly not a Libertarian, this is a fact that is missed by so many people. There will always be achievers, whether they go to public schools, private schools, home schools, magnet schools, charter schools, or no schools at all. While it is fine for society to create opportunities for advancement, what’s more important is removing BARRIERS to advancement. And for the most part that’s not what we are about.
What we tend to be about as a society is building power structures and most of those power structures, including schools and governments, are decidedly reactive. This is not all bad. After all, the poster child for educational and government proactivity in the 20th century may have been the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Related: Moore’s Law, Culture & School Change.

Homeowners Petition to Leave the Waukesha School District

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial:

The fact that 66 out of 99 residents in the Meadowbrook Farms single-family home development in Pewaukee are willing to spend an average of $700 more in property taxes to leave the Waukesha School District says something about the disturbing trend in what the district is offering its families.
If the district and taxpaying voters in the district want to become more attractive to families moving into Waukesha County, they’re going to have to find ways to reverse that trend and be willing to pay the price.
As the Journal Sentinel’s Amy Hetzner detailed in a Tuesday article, two sets of property owners plan to ask a state panel to overrule the Waukesha School Board’s denial of their requests to detach from Waukesha and join Pewaukee’s school system


Northwestern News:

A Northwestern University study investigating the effects of class size on the achievement gap between high and low academic achievers suggests that high achievers benefit more from small classes than low achievers, especially at the kindergarten and first grade levels.
“While decreasing class size may increase achievement on average for all types of students, it does not appear to reduce the achievement gap within a class,” said Spyros Konstantopoulos, assistant professor at Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy.
Konstantopoulos’ study, which appears in the March issue of Elementary School Journal, questions commonly held assumptions about class size and the academic achievement gap — one of the most debated and perplexing issues in education today.
The Northwestern professor worked with data from Project STAR, a landmark longitudinal study launched in 1985 by the State of Tennessee to determine whether small classes positively impacted the academic achievement of students.
Considered one of the most important investigations in education, STAR made it abundantly clear that on average small classes had a positive impact on the academic performance of all students.

Md. Moves to Recruit 1,000 Foster Parents by 2010

Ovetta Wiggins:

Maryland has launched an aggressive campaign to increase the number of foster families, aiming to recruit at least 1,000 foster parents by 2010.
More than 10,000 children in Maryland are in out-of-home placements, and about 20 percent are in group homes.
“That’s too many,” said Norris West, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Human Resources, which places children in foster homes and group homes. “One thousand by 10 is a way to come up with a better balance.”
Maryland has 2,800 foster families, and the campaign seeks to increase that number by 35 percent in two years.
Department Secretary Brenda Donald said Maryland is trying to reverse an alarming trend: One thousand foster parents were lost from 2003 to 2007.

Madison Schools’ Using race to deny white student transfers to be topic for the School Board

Andy Hall:

As families’ application deadline looms, many are wondering whether the Madison School District will halt its practice of using race as the reason for denying some white students’ requests to transfer to other districts.
The answer could begin to emerge as early as Monday, the first day for Wisconsin families
to request open-enrollment transfers for the coming school year.
Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater and the district’s legal counsel will confer Monday night with the School Board. It’s possible that after the closed-door discussion, the board will take a vote in open session to stop blocking open-enrollment requests on the basis of race, School Board President Arlene Silveira said.
“This is a serious decision for our school district, ” Rainwater said.
“It is our responsibility to take a very careful look at legal issues facing our school district. ”
Last year, Madison was the only of the state’s 426 school districts to deny transfer requests because of race, rejecting 126 white students’ applications to enroll in other districts, including online schools. Many of the affected students live within the district but weren’t enrolled in public schools because they were being home-schooled or attended private schools.

Related articles:

Education & The Global Economy

Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan:

Global economic growth has brought “hundreds of millions” of people out of abject poverty, particularly in Asia, the former Fed chief pointed out, and that has been the result of market forces at work.
“The most extraordinary example is China. China is moving towards capitalism. that’s precisely what it’s doing,” Greenspan said. Nevertheless, Greenspan argued, rising inequality of income is creating new problems, and declining U.S. education standards, especially in math and science, are doing harm to the historic “balancing” of income levels.

A New Approach to Correcting Autism

Claudia Wallis:

The causes of autism remain largely shrouded in mystery, but there are some types of the disorder that can be traced to specific gene defects. The most common of these — responsible for roughly 5% of autism cases — is a flaw in the X chromosome that causes a condition known as Fragile X Syndrome. Because the defect has been studied on a molecular level, it provides a unique window into understanding autism — and treating it. And that is why a paper published in this week’s issue of the journal Neuron is bound to generate excitement, even though the work was done in rodents. It shows that wide-ranging symptoms of Fragile X, which include epilepsy, impaired mental functioning, aberrant brain structure and other abnormalities, can be reversed. The work, researchers say, holds enormous promise for humans with Fragile X and probably for other forms of autism as well.

Wisconsin Attorney General Says Race Can’t Stop Student Transfers from Madison

Andy Hall:

The future of the state’s voluntary school integration program in Madison was thrown into doubt Thursday by a formal opinion from Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen declaring it unconstitutional to use race to block students’ attempts to transfer to other school districts.
The 11-page opinion, issued in response to a Sept. 17 request by Deputy State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, isn’t legally binding. However, courts consider interpretations offered by attorneys general, and the opinions can carry weight among lawmakers, too.
Madison is the only one of the state’s 426 public school districts that invokes race to deny some students’ requests to transfer to other districts under the state’s open enrollment program, the Wisconsin State Journal reported on Sept. 9.
In response to Van Hollen’s opinion, Madison schools Superintendent Art Rainwater said he and the district’s legal staff will review the document and confer with DPI officials before commenting.
“As we always have, we have every intention of obeying the law,” Rainwater said.
Figures compiled by the State Journal showed the Madison School District cited concerns over increasing its “racial imbalance” in rejecting 140 transfer requests involving 126 students for this school year. There are more applications than students because some filed more than one request.
All of the students involved in those rejected transfer requests were white.
The number of race-based rejections represents a 71 percent increase over the previous year, according to data supplied by the district. The number of rejections has nearly tripled since the 2004-05 school year.

This is an interesting paradox, a District that takes great pride in some area rankings while at the same time being resistant to such movements. Transfers can go both ways, of course. Redistributed state tax dollar transfers and local property tax & spending authority dollars are tied to enrollment.
Todd Richmond has more along with Alan Borsuk:

According to DPI spokesman Patrick Gasper, Madison is the only district in the state that could be directly affected. The Madison district has refused to allow students, almost all of them white, to enroll in other districts because of racial balance issues. This year, about 125 students were kept from transferring, Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater said.
Milwaukee Public Schools followed a similar practice in the late 1990s but changed policies about eight years ago, allowing students to attend suburban schools under the state’s open enrollment law regardless of the impact on school integration in Milwaukee.

Parents are the Problem (WEAC & Wisconsin DPI Sue to Kill the Wisconsin Virtual Academy)

Rose Fernandez, via a reader’s email:

On Tuesday of this week, in a Waukesha courtroom, the state governmental agency responsible for our public schools and a labor union came before the Wisconsin Court of Appeals and pleaded with the judges to keep parents out of public schools. Yes, that’s right. The state and the teachers union are at war with parents and I’m mad as heck about it. (Madder than heck, actually, but trying to keep this blog family friendly).
According to the Department of Public Instruction and the state teachers’ union, parents are the problem. And these bureaucracies know just how to fix it. They want to keep parents, and indeed anyone without a teaching license, out of Wisconsin public schools.
Of course WEAC, the state teachers’ union, likes that idea. Licenses mean dues. Dues mean power.
DPI likes it because ……..well, could it be just because WEAC does?
The lawsuit before the Court of Appeals was filed by WEAC in 2004 in an effort to close a charter school that uses an on-line individualized curriculum allowing students from all over the state to study from home under the supervision of state certified faculty. The school is the Wisconsin Virtual Academy (WIVA). The Northern Ozaukee School District took the bold step of opening this new kind of school in the fall of 2003 after DPI approved their charter. Hundreds of families around the state enrolled their children under open enrollment that first year and mine was one of them. WIVA has grown every year since and this year has more than 800 students.
In January of 2004, WEAC filed their lawsuit against the school and DPI who authorized its existence. Later that year in a stunning reversal DPI switched sides and moved to close its own public school. DPI alleges that parents are too involved in their own children’s education.
That’s right. They argue parents are too involved.
I’ve always thought parental involvement in a child’s education was a good thing. What do I know? I don’t have a teacher’s license.

This issue was discussed extensively by Gregg Underheim during the most recent Wisconsin DPI Superintendent race (April, 2005). Audio / Video here.
Much more on the Wisconsin Virtual Academy. Also check out

Lawmakers Consider School Food Limits

Kim Severson:

Federal lawmakers are considering the broadest effort ever to limit what children eat: a national ban on selling candy, sugary soda and salty, fatty food in school snack bars, vending machines and à la carte cafeteria lines.
Whether the measure, an amendment to the farm bill, can survive the convoluted politics that have bogged down that legislation in the Senate is one issue. Whether it can survive the battle among factions in the fight to improve school food is another.
Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa and the chairman of the Agriculture Committee, has twice before introduced bills to deal with foods other than the standard school lunch, which is regulated by Department of Agriculture.
Several lawmakers and advocates for changes in school food believe that an amendment to the $286 billion farm bill is the best chance to get control of the mountain of high-calorie snacks and sodas available to school children. Even if the farm bill does not pass, Mr. Harkin and Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, who is also sponsoring the amendment, vow to keep reintroducing it in other forms until it sticks.

The Secret to Raising Smart Kids

Carol Dweck:

Hint: Don’t tell your kids that they are. More than three decades of research shows that a focus on effort—not on intelligence or ability—is key to success in school and in life.
Growing Pains

  • Many people assume that superior intelligence or ability is a key to success. But more than three decades of research shows that an overemphasis on intellect or talent—and the implication that such traits are innate and fixed—leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unmotivated to learn.
  • Teaching people to have a “growth mind-set,” which encourages a focus on effort rather than on intelligence or talent, produces high achievers in school and in life.
  • Parents and teachers can engender a growth mind-set in children by praising them for their effort or persistence (rather than for their intelligence), by telling success stories that emphasize hard work and love of learning, and by teaching them about the brain as a learning machine.

Book: Amy’s Game: The Concealed Structure of Education

Amy’s Game: The Concealed Structure of Education :

Amy’s Game is a field manual for parents, teachers, and leaders who want to give our children the education they deserve. The author draws on over 30 years experience and hundreds of studies to expose education’s hidden structure responsible for our schools’ decline. Tactics for reversing that slide are given along with inexpensive, well-researched instructional methods that anyone-parent to professor-can use to improve our children’s education.

Amazon Link. Thanks to Larry Winkler for the link.

Excuses are not an option

Alan Borsuk:

There are casual days at Milwaukee College Preparatory School when it comes to what students can wear. Polo shirts (red for almost all the students and yellow for standouts who have earned privileges) are the uniform for those days. Other days, students have to wear blazers and ties.
But there are no casual days at the school when it comes to academics, even down to the kindergartners.
“Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go, let’s go,” eighth-grade math teacher Edward Richerson exhorts his students as a half dozen head toward the blackboard to solve some equations. They’re not moving fast enough for him.
A couple of them falter in their explanations. “What I’ve told you not to do is get lazy on these equations, which is what you’ve done,” Richerson says. If you’re not getting them, it’s not because you’re not smart enough, he says. “Since we are overachievers,” he begins as he tells them why they have to be as picky about the details of the answers as he is.
In a 5-year-old kindergarten class, children do an exercise in counting and understanding sequences of shapes. Four-year-olds are expected to be on the verge of reading by Christmas.
In national education circles, phrases such as “no excuses” and names such as “KIPP” have come to stand for a hard-driving approach to educating low-income urban children, and that includes longer days, strict codes of conduct, an emphasis on mastering basics and a dedication among staff members approaching zeal. The Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP, operates 57 schools in cities around the country and has a record that is not perfect but is noteworthy for its success.
Milwaukee College Prep, 2449 N. 36th St., is the prime example in Milwaukee of a no-excuses school. The charter school, which is publicly funded and was chartered through the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, is not formally a KIPP school, although it is affiliated with the KIPP movement.

Milwaukee College Preparatory School’s website.

The Pangloss Index: How States Game the No Child Left Behind Act: Wisconsin Tied for #1

Kevin Carey:

This report includes an updated Pangloss Index, based on a new round of state reports submitted in 2007. As Table 1 shows, many states look about the same Wisconsin and Iowa are tied for first, distinguishing themselves by insisting that their states house a pair of educational utopias along the upper Mississippi River. In contrast, Massachusetts—which is the highest-performing state in the country according to the NAEP—continues to hold itself to far tougher standards than most, showing up at 46th, near the bottom of the list.

Alan Borsuk:

Wisconsin – especially the state Department of Public Instruction – continues to avoid taking steps to increase the success of low-performing children in the state, a national non-profit organization says in a report released today.
For the second year in a row, Education Sector put Wisconsin at the top of its Pangloss Index, a ranking of states based on how much they are overly cheery about how their students are doing. Much of the ranking is based on the author’s assessment of data related to what a state is doing to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind education law.
“Wisconsin policy-makers are fooling parents by pretending that everything is perfect,” said Kevin Carey, research and policy manager for the organization. “As a result, the most vulnerable students aren’t getting the attention they need.”
DPI officials declined to comment on the new report because they had not seen it yet. In 2006, Tony Evers, the deputy state superintendent of public instruction, objected strongly to a nearly identical ranking from Education Sector and said state officials and schools were focused on improving student achievement, especially of low-income and minority students on the short end of achievement gaps in education.
The report is the latest of several over the last two years from several national groups that have said Wisconsin is generally not doing enough to challenge its schools and students to do better. The groups can be described politically as centrist to conservative and broadly supportive of No Child Left Behind. Education Sector’s founders include Andrew Rotherham, a former education adviser to President Bill Clinton, and the group describes itself as non-partisan.
Several of the reports have contrasted Wisconsin and Massachusetts as states with similar histories of offering high-quality education but different approaches toward setting statewide standards now. Massachusetts has drawn praise for action it has taken in areas such as testing the proficiency of teachers, setting the bar high on standardized tests and developing rigorous education standards.
The Education Sector report and Carey did the same. The report rated Massachusetts as 46th in the nation, meaning it is one of the most demanding states when it comes to giving schools high ratings.
Carey said that in 1992, Wisconsin outscored Massachusetts in the nationwide testing program known as NAEP, the National Assessment of Educational Progress. But Wisconsin is now behind that state in every area of NAEP testing, he said.
“Unlike Wisconsin, Massachusetts has really challenged its schools,” Carey said.

Additional commentary from TJ Mertz and Joanne Jacobs. All about Pangloss.

School Integration Efforts Face Renewed Opposition

Joseph Pereira: Last spring, town officials in this affluent Boston suburb changed the elementary-school assignments for 38 streets — and sparked outrage. Some white families had been reassigned to Tucker, a mostly black school which has historically had Milton’s lowest test scores. Among those reassigned is Kevin Keating, a white parent who is talking to … Continue reading School Integration Efforts Face Renewed Opposition

The Changing Racial and Ethnic Composition of U.S. Public Schools

Rick Fry: The 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in June to strike down school desegregation plans in Seattle and Louisville has focused public attention on the degree of racial and ethnic integration in the nation’s 93,845 public schools. A new analysis of public school enrollment data by the Pew Hispanic Center finds that … Continue reading The Changing Racial and Ethnic Composition of U.S. Public Schools

The Achievement Trap: How American is Failing Millions of High-Achieving Students from Lower-Income Families

Groundbreaking report just released by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. Here is the September 10, 2007, press release: MAJOR TALENT DRAIN IN OUR NATION’S SCHOOLS, SQUANDERING THE POTENTIAL OF MILLIONS OF HIGH-ACHIEVING, LOWER-INCOME STUDENTS, NEW REPORT UNCOVERS Current education policy focused on “proficiency” misses opportunity to raise achievement levels among the brightest, lower-income students WASHINGTON, … Continue reading The Achievement Trap: How American is Failing Millions of High-Achieving Students from Lower-Income Families

French & British Education Climate Update

The Economist: Bac to School: LADEN with hefty backpacks, French children filed back to school this week amid fresh agonising about the education system. Given its reputation for rigour and secular egalitarianism, and its well-regarded baccalauréat exam, this is surprising. What do the French think is wrong? Quite a lot, to judge from a 30-page … Continue reading French & British Education Climate Update

Goal is to get students walking, bicycling

Tom Held: As children make their way back to classrooms, schools and municipalities in Wisconsin will start spending $4 million in federal transportation grants to encourage and help more of them make that trek by foot or bicycle. Milwaukee Public Schools will spend the largest planning grant, $242,000, to teach 6,000 grade school and middle … Continue reading Goal is to get students walking, bicycling

Make science easier, examiners are told

Adam Kula & Alexandra Frean: Examiners will have to set easier questions in some GCSE science papers, under new rules seen by The Times. A document prepared by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), which represents awarding bodies across Britain, says that, from next year, exam papers should consist of 70 per cent “low-demand questions”, … Continue reading Make science easier, examiners are told

Hours of teaching differ for schools

Amy Hetzner & Alan Borsuk: Where a student attends public school in the five-county metropolitan Milwaukee area can make a difference of as much as four weeks’ time in the classroom per year, according to data reported to the state. For the last two school years, the school districts of Burlington, Cudahy, Kettle Moraine, Mukwonago, … Continue reading Hours of teaching differ for schools

How Schools Get It Right

Experienced teachers, supplemental programs are two key elements to helping students thrive Liz Bowie Baltimore Sun July 22, 2007 Tucked amid a block of rowhouses around the corner from Camden Yards is an elementary school with a statistical profile that often spells academic trouble: 76 percent of the students are poor, and 95 percent are … Continue reading How Schools Get It Right

California’s students get into college, but not always out

Justin Pope: For most of history, higher education has been reserved for a tiny elite. For a glimpse of a future where college is open to all, visit California — the place that now comes closest to that ideal. California’s community college system is the country’s largest, with 109 campuses, 4,600 buildings and a staggering … Continue reading California’s students get into college, but not always out

Too Many California Students Not Ready for College

Pamela Burdman and Marshall S. Smith California’s vibrant economy is in jeopardy because we aren’t producing enough educated workers to meet the state’s future needs, according to a recent study by the Public Policy Institute of California. The authors see only one solution: improving college attendance and graduation rates of Californians. High-profile attempts by top … Continue reading Too Many California Students Not Ready for College

Wisconsin “Languishing” on Policies Affecting Teachers

National Council on Teacher Quality: [864K PDF Report] Area 1 – Meeting NCLB Teacher Quality Objectives: Grade C Wisconsin has better data policies than many states, which can help it ameliorate inequities in teacher assignments. The state’s subject matter preparation policies for future elementary teachers need improvement. Its requirements for future high school teachers are … Continue reading Wisconsin “Languishing” on Policies Affecting Teachers

No Child Left Behind setting below-average goals

Mary Wolf-Francis When Margaret Spellings visited the Southeast Valley this spring, she was asked to respond to the question about the effects of No Child Left Behind on the average and above-average students. Her response was frightening. Spellings declared that No Child Left Behind is about the “vast, vast number of young Americans who lack … Continue reading No Child Left Behind setting below-average goals

Madison Schools MTI Teacher Contract Roundup

Conversation regarding the recent MMSD / MTI collective bargaining agreement continues: Andy Hall wrote a useful summary, along with some budget numbers (this agreementi s56% of the MMSD’s $339.6M budget): District negotiators headed by Superintendent Art Rainwater had sought to free up money for starting teachers’ salaries by persuading the union to drop Wisconsin Physicians … Continue reading Madison Schools MTI Teacher Contract Roundup

Accelerated Biology at West HS Stands Still

I have a friend who is fond of saying “never ascribe to maliciousness that which can be accounted for by incompetence.” These words have become a touchstone for me in my dealings with the Madison schools. I work harder than some people might ever believe to remember that every teacher, administrator and staff person I … Continue reading Accelerated Biology at West HS Stands Still


In reference to current talk about a referenda proposal by the Madison Metropolitan School Board (MMSD), Active Citizens for Education (ACE) will hold a news conference this coming Tuesday, June 5th at 12:15 p.m. at The Coliseum Bar, 232 East Olin Ave, Madison [map]. The group will advance three proposals that the School Board should … Continue reading SCHOOL BOARD WATCHDOG GROUP TO HOLD NEWS CONFERENCE TUESDAY at 12:15 pm

An elite education should be open to all who can benefit, not just those who can pay

The Economist: NO exam question is as perplexing as how to organise schools to suit the huge variety of pupils they serve: rich and poor, clever and dim, early developers and late starters. Every country does it differently. Some try to spot talent early. Others winnow out the academic-minded only at 18. Some believe in … Continue reading An elite education should be open to all who can benefit, not just those who can pay

Wisconsin DPI: Cracking Down on SAGE Class Size Waivers

Amy Hetzner: The state Department of Public Instruction gave wide leeway last year to a school district seeking to avoid the strictures of Wisconsin’s class-size reduction program, even as the DPI rolled out its plan to clamp down on such exceptions. The Chippewa Falls School District was allowed to hold classes with one-third more students … Continue reading Wisconsin DPI: Cracking Down on SAGE Class Size Waivers

Madison School Board Should “Learn from Fiasco”

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial: After the Greek King Pyrrhus defeated the Romans in 279 B.C., he cut his celebration short. Pyrrhus realized that the battle had been more costly to his army than it had been to the Romans. His response went something like this: “One more such victory, and we are undone.” Those words … Continue reading Madison School Board Should “Learn from Fiasco”

In Low-Income Schools, Parents Want Teachers Who Teach: In affluent schools, other things matter

Brian Jacob & Lars Lefgren: Recent government education policies seem to assume that academic achievement as measured by test scores is the primary objective of public education. A prime example is the federal No Child Left Behind law, which requires schools to bring all of their students to “proficient” levels on math and reading tests … Continue reading In Low-Income Schools, Parents Want Teachers Who Teach: In affluent schools, other things matter

Madison School Board “Kowtows to Complainers”

Susan Lampert Smith: So kids, what did we learn from the Madison School Board’s decision Monday to reverse itself and not consolidate the half-empty Marquette and Lapham elementary schools? We learned that no doesn’t really mean no. We learned that, oops, maybe there is money after all. And most importantly, we learned that whoever yells … Continue reading Madison School Board “Kowtows to Complainers”

Madison School Board to Reconsider Marquette / Lapham Consolidation

Deborah Ziff: The Madison School Board may reverse its decision to consolidate Lapham and Marquette elementary schools after a neighborhood group mobilized in opposition to the budget cut. The board is nearing the five votes needed to overturn its decision. Four of the seven board members — Carol Carstensen, Beth Moss, Johnny Winston Jr. and … Continue reading Madison School Board to Reconsider Marquette / Lapham Consolidation

Critics pack meeting on unpopular school decisions

Susan Troller: Although the Madison School Board so far has held its ground on a host of unpopular decisions, it may be approaching a tipping point, at least on the issue of school consolidation. The School Board’s meeting was a multi-ring circus Monday night as a capacity crowd presented a collective howl of anguish about … Continue reading Critics pack meeting on unpopular school decisions

Letter to School Board Members & a Meeting with Enis Ragland

Sue Arneson, Jason Delborne, Katie Griffiths, Anita Krasno, Dea Larsen Converse, Diane Milligan, Sich Slone, Grant Sovern, Lara Sutherlin: Dear School Board Members: A group of neighbors from the Marquette and Tenney-Lapham communities met this morning with Enis Ragland, Assistant to the Mayor. While we didn’t claim to represent any organizations, many of us have … Continue reading Letter to School Board Members & a Meeting with Enis Ragland

Board members explain votes to close schools

Susan Troller: When newly elected Madison School Board members Maya Cole and Beth Moss went into Monday night’s crucial budget meeting, both intended to vote against closing schools, consistent with their campaign promises. But by the time the seven-member board patched together the various cuts, additions and compromises necessary to restore some programs and services … Continue reading Board members explain votes to close schools

Gates Foundation Hires Portland Superintendent Vicki Phillips

Gates Foundation: Today, more than one million students fail to finish high school, including half of African American and Hispanic students. Of those who do graduate, only half have the knowledge and skills they need to succeed. Over the last seven years, the foundation has made significant investments to reverse these startling statistics. In her … Continue reading Gates Foundation Hires Portland Superintendent Vicki Phillips

Some interesting insight into another district’s budgeting process, knowledge, and challenges.

Shane Samuels: There are those who like to work with numbers, and then there are those who figure school budgets. They’re not necessarily the same person. School finance consists of a labyrinth of property values, student enrollment totals, federal aid, and state aid. Only two people in Chetek claim to understand the funding formula from … Continue reading Some interesting insight into another district’s budgeting process, knowledge, and challenges.

A K-12 View from 35,000 Feet

I happened to sit next to the Curriculum Coordinator (20+ years in that District) for a large, growing US School District recently ( north of 100,000 students). I found some of the comments interesting: They cycle through superintendents every 2 to 3 years. The Supers are paid $300K+ with “lots of benefits”. The new super … Continue reading A K-12 View from 35,000 Feet

Taking Middle Schoolers Out of the Middle

Elissa Gootman: The two schools, in disparate corners of the nation’s largest school system, are part of a national effort to rethink middle school, driven by increasingly well-documented slumps in learning among early adolescents as well as middle school crime rates and stubborn high school dropout rates. The schools share the premise that the way … Continue reading Taking Middle Schoolers Out of the Middle

NYC Mayor Moves to Give Principals More Autonomy

Diane Cardwell: Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg laid out ambitious new plans yesterday to overhaul the school system by giving principals more power and autonomy, requiring teachers to undergo rigorous review in order to gain tenure and revising the school financing system that has allowed more-experienced teachers to cluster in affluent areas. The plan, which would … Continue reading NYC Mayor Moves to Give Principals More Autonomy

2007 – 2008 Madison School District Budget Discussions Underway

Watch Monday evening’s school board discussion [Video | Download] of the upcoming larger than usual reductions in revenue cap limited increases in the District’s 2007 – 2008 budget (they are larger than normal due to the recently disclosed 7 year structural budget deficit). The 2006 / 2007 budget is $333M+ (it was $245M in 98/99 … Continue reading 2007 – 2008 Madison School District Budget Discussions Underway

On Wisconsin’s Learning Gap

Alan Borsuk: The education achievement gaps between African-American and white children in Wisconsin remain among the worst in the United States, according to an analysis released Wednesday by an influential education group. To a degree that’s good news. That’s better than in 2004, when a similar analysis by the Journal Sentinel showed the proficiency gaps … Continue reading On Wisconsin’s Learning Gap

Free tuition for vow to stay?

Scott Williams: Considering recommending free tuition for all students who agree to remain in the Dairy State after getting their degrees, reversing an exodus of college graduates and potentially transforming the state’s economy. The commission will gather in Madison on Tuesday to discuss including the idea in a package of recommended reforms geared primarily toward … Continue reading Free tuition for vow to stay?

Wisconsin Math, reading proficiency are much higher on state exams than on federal

Amy Hetzner: Wisconsin students continue to fare far better on the state’s standardized tests than they do on those given by the federal government, according to a new analysis that raises questions about what it means to be “proficient.” About 70% to 85% of Wisconsin students were considered proficient or better on the state’s reading … Continue reading Wisconsin Math, reading proficiency are much higher on state exams than on federal

More on the Kalamazoo Promise: College for Free

The Kalamazoo Promise program has drawn 985 students to their K-12 system. Jamaal Abdul-Alim recently visited the city to learn more: The program is as much a social experiment aimed at leveling the playing field of access to higher learning as it is an economic development initiative meant to generate school revenue, boost the economy … Continue reading More on the Kalamazoo Promise: College for Free

A Few More 11/7/2006 Referendum Links

Support Smart Management: Wisconsin State Journal Editorial Board: Taxpayers in the Madison School District should demand that the School Board be smarter about managing the district’s money and resources. On Tuesday’s ballot is a school referendum containing three smart proposals. That’s why the referendum deserves voters’ support. More important than the referendum, however, is what … Continue reading A Few More 11/7/2006 Referendum Links

Poor Management Compels “No” Vote

After being decisively defeated in two spending referendums last year, the administration and a majority of the Madison School Board haven’t learned that the voters are sick and tired of runaway spending and poor management. In a demonstration of true arrogance, after being told in May 2005 that flat enrollment did not justify a new … Continue reading Poor Management Compels “No” Vote

If Chartering is the Answer, What was the Question?

Ted Kolderie and Joe Graba, charter school leaders at Education/Evolving urge legislators to expand Wisconsin’s charter school law: “The Importance of Innovation in Chartering” Remarks to the Legislative Study Committee on Charter Schools By Ted Kolderie and Joe Graba, Education/Evolving October 17, 2006 TED KOLDERIE Let me try to set the context for the Legislature’s … Continue reading If Chartering is the Answer, What was the Question?

A New School on Madison’s Far West Side: A Long Term Perspective

On November 7, Madison area residents will be asked to vote on a referendum concerning our local schools. While the referendum has three parts, this paper will focus on the first part – the construction of a new school on the far west side, representing over 75% of the total cost of the referendum. This … Continue reading A New School on Madison’s Far West Side: A Long Term Perspective

The Education Issue

Michael Grunwald: To some extent, the controversy over Reading First reflects an older controversy over reading, pitting “phonics” advocates such as Doherty against “whole language” practitioners such as Johnson. The administration believes in phonics, which emphasizes repetitive drills that teach children to sound out words. Johnson and other phonics skeptics try to teach the meaning … Continue reading The Education Issue

Dissecting the Dollars: MMSD Referendum Nears

WKOW-TV: The five-minute video, available on MMSD’s Web site, explains why there is a referendum, and how a yes-vote impacts taxpayers’ wallets. Board member Carol Carstensen said it’s intended to be shown at various meetings. “In parent groups, neighborhood groups, service organizations, anyone who wants to find out the facts about the referendum question,” she … Continue reading Dissecting the Dollars: MMSD Referendum Nears

Research: School diversity may ease racial prejudice

A small study and I confess I haven’t looked at the study itself, but a reminder that some important aspects of education aren’t measured by standardized tests. TJM Research: School diversity may ease racial prejudice More bias seen in kids in mostly white setting By Shankar Vedantam The Washington Post Published September 19, 2006 White … Continue reading Research: School diversity may ease racial prejudice

Fordham Foundation: Wisconsin DPI Academic Standards = D-

Alan Borsuk: It’s the fourth time in three months that a national study has accused state officials of shirking their responsibilities, particularly to minority students and those from low-income homes. Two national education reformers said Monday that Department of Public Instruction officials have misled citizens about their work to improve the quality of education in … Continue reading Fordham Foundation: Wisconsin DPI Academic Standards = D-

Improving School Food

Lisa Belkin: By any health measure, today’s children are in crisis. Seventeen percent of American children are overweight, and increasing numbers of children are developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes, which, until a few years ago, was a condition seen almost only in adults. The obesity rate of adolescents has tripled … Continue reading Improving School Food

High School Rigor: Iowa AP Index and a Michigan School Board Member

The University of Iowa: Every May a large number of high school students across America take AP exams. In May 2005 over 1.2 million high school students took over 2.1 million AP exams. AP allows students to pursue college-level studies while still in high school. Over 3000 colleges accept AP exam scores for either college … Continue reading High School Rigor: Iowa AP Index and a Michigan School Board Member

Education Spending and Changing Revenue Sources

Sonya Hoo, Sheila Murray, Kim Rueben: Real per capita school spending increased by about 50 percent between 1972 and 2002. Spending levels fell in the late 1970s and early 1980s, reflecting declines in student populations and funding that grew more slowly than inflation. However, those real declines were reversed by the mid-1980s. Although school districts … Continue reading Education Spending and Changing Revenue Sources

Milwaukee Schools Increase Low Performing School Curriculum Oversight

Alan Borsuk: Andrekopoulos said in his speech that from about 1988 through 2000, the leadership of MPS made it a priority to decentralize control of the district, allowing many schools to operate more independently and choose approaches to education. Some schools flourished as a result, but many did not, he said, and the focus was … Continue reading Milwaukee Schools Increase Low Performing School Curriculum Oversight

Making the Grade: Madison High Schools & No Child Left Behind Requirements

Susan Troller: Don’t assume that a school is bad just because it’s not making adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law. That comment came today from Madison School Board member Lucy Mathiak, whose children attend or have attended East High School. East and three other Madison public high schools were cited … Continue reading Making the Grade: Madison High Schools & No Child Left Behind Requirements

More on “How States (WI is #1) Inflate Their Progress Under No Child Left Behind”

Alan Borsuk takes a look at and speaks with DPI’s Tony Evers on Kevin Carey’s report, emailed to this site on 5/20/2006 by a reader involved in these issues: In an interview, Carey said he agrees that Wisconsin generally is a high-performing state in educating students, “but I do not believe its performance is as … Continue reading More on “How States (WI is #1) Inflate Their Progress Under No Child Left Behind”